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Ireland Gazeteer

County Antrim in 1833

ANTRIM, a county in Ireland, bordering on the coast at the N.E. extremity of the island, and in the province of Ulster. It is bounded on the N. by the Atlantic, on the E. by the north channel, (which forms the northern entrance into the Irish Sea, and separates Ireland from Scotland,) on the S.E. by Belfast Lough, on the S. by the county of Down, on the S.W. by Lough Neagh, and on the W. by the county of Londonderry, from which it is separated for the most part by the river Bann.

This county extends from N. to S. 56 miles, and from E. to W. 30 miles; and contains, according to the trigonometrical survey now making under the direction of the Board of Ordnance, 758,808 acres, of which only 483,048 are arable, 225,970 being mountain and bog, and 49,790 under water.

The sea-coast is romantic and picturesque. Near the western extremity of that part of it which belongs to this county, is the ‘Giants’ Causeway,’ an immense pile of perpendicular basaltic columns, varying in their number of sides but chiefly hexagonal, touching each other on every side without intervals or void spaces, and forming a huge mole or pier which extends far into the sea.

Other specimens of columnar basalt are found along the coast, as at the promontory of Bengore in the neighbourhood of the Giants’ Causeway, and at Fairhead, a headland about eight miles east of the last; also in some place inland. From Fairhead, the coast, which runs so far nearly W. and E., turns to the southward to the entrance of Belfast Lough, and presents to the eye a succession of precipitous cliffs projecting boldly into the ocean, and broken by a few bays and creeks.

Off the coast lie the islands of Skerries and Rathlin or Raghery. The Skerries are small island W. of the Giants Causeway. Rathlin is larger, being seven miles in length, and containing about 2,000 acres, of which about 500 are arable. It is crescent-shaped, with the horns turned towards the main-land, from which it is separated by the strait of Slunk-na-marra:—the passage of this strait is often dangerous from the heavy swell. The inhabitants, who amount to 1,080, are engaged in fishing, raising barley or manufacturing kelp. At Doon Point, in this island, are some singular basaltic columns, horizontal, perpendicular, and curved.

The eastern side of the county is mountainous, but the mountains form irregular groups rather than a continuous chain, and are intermixed with bogs, which also prevail in the western and flatter part of the county. The principal heights are Slemish, about the middle; and Knocklayd, or Knocklead, in the northern part of the county.

There is a popular opinion that Belfast is subject to much rain; but this opinion is owing rather to the frequency of the showers than to the actual quantity of rain that falls, which in the years 1795-98 was much below that at Londonderry in the adjoining county to the west.

There are no rivers or streams of any importance running through the county.

The largest are the Bush, which, rising in the mountainous district to the N.E., near Knocklayd, flows first to the west and then to the north, and falls into the ocean at Ballintrea near the Giants' Causeway, after a course of about 20 English miles; and the Main, which has a southerly course of nearly 30 English miles from Lough Gule into Lough Neagh near Randal's Town, and receives the waters of several tributaries.

The Bann, a far more important stream, which flows through Lough Neagh, forms boundary of this county towards the west, separating it from the county of Londonderry; and the Lagan, which rises in the county of Down, and has a course of nearly 40 English miles into the Belfast Lough, divides the counties of Antrim and Down.

Antrim is divided into fourteen baronies, Upper and Lower Dunluce and Carey in the north; Upper and Lower Glenarm, stretching along the east coast; westward, Kilconway, Upper and Lower Antrim, and Upper and Lower Toome; Upper and Lower Belfast, inclosing the county of the town of Carrickfergus, and Upper and Lower Massarene, occupy the south, and comprehend the most beautiful, improved, and populous parts of the county. These baronies include 74 parishes; one in the bishopric of Dromore, the rest in the bishopric of Connor, both which bishoprics are in the ecclesiastical province of Armagh.

The estates, with the exception of land held under the see of Connor, are freehold; either immediate from the crown, or held by lease from the grantees. The fee of the greater part of the county belongs to the Antrim family, and the Marquises of Hertford and Donegal. The other principal proprietors are the Countess Massarene, Lords O Neil and Templeton, and Colonel Packenham.

Agriculture is in a very backward state, the land being very generally occupied in small holdings by the farmers, who are also engaged in linen weaving.

In the flat parts of the county, along the shore of the Belfast Lough, the farms rarely exceed ten acres, part of which is devoted to raising potatoes, the quantity thus appropriated being regulated by the quantity of manure, which latterly has been much increased by the use of lime; a small part to raising flax, the ability to purchase seed here guiding the occupier; and the remainder to oats, which crop is repeated two or three years; and when the land is exhausted, it is left to lie fallow, or 'turned to rest,' until, by receiving the manure saved, it is fitted for raising potatoes again; after which come the oats (sometimes wheat) or flax.

Barley is frequently sown, but seldom in large quantities. Beans are grown in one or two parishes on the coast, chiefly for export to Scotland. Clover has lately come to be an object of attention; but turnips, vetches, or kale are little regarded.

The small size of these farms, if such they may be termed, and the rockiness of the soil, lead to the use of spade husbandry; or if the farms are somewhat larger than ordinary, neighbours unite their horses, bullocks, or milch cows to form a team for the plough.

Sometimes the ‘dry cotters,’ (occupiers of a house without any land,) or small occupiers, take what are termed 'corn acres' or 'con acres,' i.e., ground hired to raise a single crop of potatoes or oats.

In the northern part of the county, the tillage is even worse than that above-described. The rattle consist chiefly of milch cows belonging to the small farmers, who cannot give the price for a good heifer; they are, therefore, of an inferior breed.

The gentlemen farmers have, however, been desirous of improving their stock by importation. There is, on an average, a cow to each family, without reckoning the population of the towns.

Butter is the chief object of the dairy: 82,000 firkins from this county and those of Down and Armagh were, in 1827, exported from Belfast. Cheese is made also; that of Carrickfergus is much esteemed.

Sheep are little attended to; very little wool is produced for sale, there being no more than is required for domestic purposes.

Goats are continually seen round the cabins; they are tethered by a cord fastened to the horns, and put to graze on the tops of the banks. The dog and the pig are inmates of almost every cabin, and may be considered alike as domesticated animals.

The number of pigs reared is very great. In the three winter months of 1826-7, upwards of 71,000, averaging 200 pounds (lbs) each, were sold in Belfast, fetching from £1, 12 shillings to £2, 14 shillings per hundredweight (cwt). The small farmers depend on them for payment of their rents; and eight or ten are a common appendage to a small farm-yard.

There is a coal mine at Ballycastle in this county, but the coal is of an inferior sort; and one of fossil wood or wood coal at Killymorris near Ballintoy on the same coast. English coal is imported into Belfast. Gypsum, marble, beautiful crystal pebbles, and different sorts of ochres are also found.

The great manufacture of the county is that of linen. Flax was once grown to a considerable extent, more acres (viz., 11,000) having been devoted to this crop in Antrim than in any other Irish county, except Armagh; but the cultivation of flax has diminished of late years. The seed is almost entirely brought from Holland.

It is spun into yarn by the poor females, who are very expert in this branch of industry: yarn spun by the hand is preferred to that spun by machinery, which has been introduced for this purpose, and has caused a great reduction in the price of yarn.

The weavers work on their own account, purchasing either spun yarn, or unspun, and weaving it in their own families. Some of them employ journeymen. Others have in their houses two or three looms (costing £4 to £5 each) which they let at about 10 shillings per annum.

The weavers sell their fabrics to the bleachers, by whom they are finished, and generally sent to Dublin or London. Some are exported to England unbleached, in order to be completed there.

The linens made in the county of Antrim are narrow, not exceeding when bleached thirty-two inches; those of the width of three quarters of a yard are all made here, for certain widths are peculiar to certain districts.

In the neighbourhood of Belfast and Lisburne fine yard-wide linens or cambrics, lawns and diapers, are made; and at the latter town is also a manufactory of damasks.

The linen manufacture, however it may have enriched the middling classes, has by no means raised the condition of the actual manufacturer, whose earnings are commonly below those of an agricultural labourer, so that many have left the loom to go to field labour.

The cotton manufacture has flourished considerably in and around Belfast, and affords to the working man far greater advantages. It was introduced by Messrs. Joy and M'Cabe, in 1777, and is not carried on by the weavers on their own account, like the linen, but by men of large capital, for whom the weaver works either at his own house or in a factory.

The goods manufactured are muslins, calicoes, wrappings, thicksets, corduroys, and velveteens. The number of persons employed in Belfast, Lisburne, Carrickfergus, and the neighbouring districts, is estimated at 26,000, having about doubled since 1800.

To the introduction of the cotton manufacture, and to the commercial importance of Belfast, may be ascribed the improvement observable in the condition of the people who live in the neighbourhood of that town; in which are concentrated nearly all the other manufactures carried on in this county, as well as most of the foreign commerce.

There are some salmon fisheries at Custendal, Tor Point near Fairhead, Ballycastle, Carrick-a-rede, and the Bush-foot. The more important one in the Bann near Coleraine rather belongs to the county of Londonderry. Belfast is supplied with oysters and other fish from Carrickfergus.

The population of the county in 1831 (the last census taken) was 323,306: in 1790, Dr. Beaufort (Memoir of a Map of Ireland) estimated the inhabitants at 160,000.

According to the returns of the Commissioners of Education in 1824-26, the number of children receiving education in schools was 20,050, of whom 11,800 were boys and 8,250 girls: 3,865 were of the established church, 11,640 were presbyterians, 430 dissenters of other denominations, 3,785 Roman Catholics, and of 330 the religious profession could not be ascertained.

The shire town is Carrickfergus, once the first sea-port in the north of Ireland, and then defended by a strong castle, where a small garrison is still kept. The population of the county of the town of Carrickfergus was, in 1831, 8,698.

Belfast is, however, the place of greatest importance (population 53,287).

Both of these are on the north shore of Belfast Lough. Lisburne, on the river Lagan, has a population of 5,218; and Antrim, near Lough Neagh, of 2,655.

The other towns are Larne, on a lough or inlet of the same name, on the east coast, (population 1,551,) an inconsiderable place with a poor harbour: Ballymena, (population 4,063,) and Ballymony, (population 2,222.) a neat little town, with stone houses, and slated roofs, and having a decent inn; (both these are on the road from Antrim to Coleraine ;) Ballycastle, (population 1,683,) with its coal mine, on the north coast; and Randal's Town, a little to the N.W. of Antrim, and near the shore of Lough Neagh.

The other places called towns in the population returns have under 700 inhabitants, and are not worth mentioning, except Connor, which contains the ruins of a cathedral, and gives name to the diocese.

The chief antiquities are the above-mentioned cathedral; the round tower at Antrim; the remains of two other towers, one at Armoy near Ballycastle, and the other on Ram Island in Lough Neagh: Dunluce Castle, on the coast, not far from the Giants' Causeway; and the ruins of a castle on Rathlin island, which is said to have given shelter to Robert Bruce when driven from his native land. A cromlech and a rocking stone are to be seen in island Magee near Larne.

The county returns two members to parliament; Belfast two; Carrickfergus and Lisburne each one. The number of electors for the county under the Reform Bill of 1832 amounted to 3,487, of whom 561 were £50 freeholders ; 462 were £20, and 2,209 were £10. Of these 3,026 voted at the last general election (of 1832). Antrim gives the title of Earl to the family of Macdonnel.